Right now, the New Zealand Government is poised to announce a sweeping stimulus package to deal with the economic impacts of Covid-19. Done right, this package could help transform our economy and society, make us more resilient, and drive changes in habits that promote positive environmental and health outcomes.
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread worldwide, many of us are feeling anxious about the health of our families and friends, and the wider impacts of this public health crisis on society. This includes impacts on jobs, income and access to essential services, particularly for those who are already vulnerable. During a time of uncertainty, it’s important for the Government to step in and protect the people who will suffer most, both directly and indirectly. By thoughtfully targeting this response, we also have the opportunity to come out of this public health crisis set up for a better future.
The investments made by Government now could leave us more equipped to manage the ongoing climate and biodiversity crisis, which poses growing threats to people’s lives, health, livelihoods and wellbeing. They could support the shifts for industry and infrastructure to the demands of a new net-zero carbon economy. And they could make major improvements for everyday New Zealanders’ daily lives, jobs and incomes.
Following the 2008 financial crash, we saw public funds flow disproportionately to polluting industries and to society’s most wealthy. The response to the global financial crisis exacerbated inequality and gave a counterproductive boost to the industries driving climate change. This mistake must not be repeated in the response to Covid-19. Right now we have a chance to add value to the ecological and social support systems that we rely on to be safe and to thrive, particularly in times of crisis.
Below are some things that could help straight away. But we don’t have all the answers. We want to hear your ideas too. We’ll soon be bringing these proposals to the Government as part of our ongoing advocacy to build a greener and more peaceful world.
Alongside boosts to health services and extended support to protect those most vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic, we believe it’s essential that the fiscal stimulus package should be channeled towards the following four areas:
- Improving how New Zealanders live
- Upgrading our public sector and infrastructure
- Accelerating our major industries into the future
- Putting more money in the hands of ordinary people
IMPROVING HOW NEW ZEALANDERS LIVE
This includes things like:
Insulation and heating support
There are still around 600,000 under-insulated homes in New Zealand. These homes expose occupants – who are often already society’s most marginalised – to increased risk of respiratory illness. Covid-19 could well reach its peak in New Zealand during the autumn and winter. Fast-tracking finance and support for home insulation and heat pumps is common sense from a health and energy efficiency perspective. This is a programme that can be rolled out relatively quickly, given the existing Warmer Kiwi Homes programme.
Solar and batteries
The International Energy Agency has called for governments to use their economic stimulus packages to help the clean energy transition. We agree. A good place to start is household and community-owned solar. Surveys show 58% New Zealanders would like to make their own energy but face barriers due to the upfront costs. Transpower has forecast that New Zealand will need 1.5 million solar homes by 2050 in order to meet the growing demand for electricity as we shift our energy system away from fossil fuels. Now is a great opportunity to give New Zealanders control over their energy, while boosting the homegrown electricity we need to power our homes, industries and transport systems. Greenpeace has done the maths on a zero-interest loan for household solar, and it’s totally doable. So is a programme to provide finance for community, marae and papakāinga solar schemes.
There has never been a more important time to fast-track and supercharge the Government’s proposed “feebate” scheme to make it easier for New Zealanders to purchase electric cars. Electric cars are cheaper to run and maintain, which is important when household budgets are likely to tighten. But low-income people in particular face barriers due to the upfront cost of paying for a new, energy-efficient car. Supporting families to purchase a car that will cost them less to run and reduce dependence on imported oil, while at the same time cutting carbon emissions and air pollution is common sense. Providing finance for e-bikes and scooters is also logical for health and climate reasons.
UPGRADING OUR PUBLIC SECTOR AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The Government can stimulate the economy by bringing forward important state sector decarbonisation projects, including:
- Solarising public buildings, and gifting excess energy to community groups and those experiencing energy hardship
- Replacing the government’s light vehicle fleet with electric vehicles
- Purchasing electric buses for the major cities
- Upgrading social housing with insulation, solar and batteries
- Equipping schools with solar power and clean heating systems
The Government can also create a stimulus by bringing forward important infrastructure projects, including:
- Expanding cycleways
- Fast-tracking public transport projects
- Upgrading the electricity grid in preparation for more distributed, renewable energy and greater electricity demand
ACCELERATING OUR MAJOR INDUSTRIES INTO THE FUTURE
New Zealand’s major export industries will be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather than injecting cash into propping up polluting practices, this is an opportunity to prepare our key industries for the shift to sustainable production and changes in global demand.
One area that would benefit greatly from this is the agriculture sector. We have the opportunity to support farmers to transition to more plant-based regenerative farming, through a billion dollar regenerative farming fund.
PUTTING MORE MONEY IN THE HANDS OF PEOPLE
Globally, the 2008 financial crash led to a redistribution of wealth from society’s poorest to its wealthiest. This must not be allowed to happen again. The strongest and most immediate fiscal stimulus any Government can provide is to increase benefits and reduce stand down times for those who lose their jobs.
If the New Zealand Government is going to introduce an income tax cut, it should benefit those at the lowest end of the income scale and not those at the top. For example, it could introduce a tax-free threshold at the bottom of the scale, which benefits the poorest and gives the best stimulus effect.
While we mobilise Government resources to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, we must be careful not to wash our hands of the ongoing crises and injustices that already threaten people’s lives, health, wellbeing and livelihoods, including the climate and biodiversity crises. As the Lancet and World Health Organisation note, climate change is likely to have major consequences on infectious disease transmission. Just like Covid-19, climate change is an inequity multiplier that disproportionately affects society’s already most-vulnerable and marginalised. In these times of crisis, it’s critical that public funds flow towards strengthening the social and ecological systems that we depend on. Thinking ahead to prevent the next public health crisis means acting now to address existing injustice and the climate and biodiversity crises.
GIVE US YOUR IDEAS!
Now more than ever we need to work together and pool our resources for the public good. These are Greenpeace’s ideas but we don’t have all the answers. What do you think the Government should be investing in? Add your ideas to the comments below and we’ll combine them with our own as we advocate for a strong response from Government.
We’ve got lots of great ideas, like solarising NZ homes and a billion dollar assistance fund for regenerative farming. But we’d like to hear your ideas too!
Have a look at the ideas already submitted, vote on your favourites ideas and then add your own if you have something that isn’t already covered.